Storm Jonas is bearing down on the East Coast of the US, with Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York all preparing for a blizzard of historic proportions.
States of emergency have been declared in Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, with as much as 60cm of snow expected to fall in parts.
The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard watch for the Washington area, warning that «potential life-threatening conditions are expected Friday night into Saturday night», while travel in the area is expected to be «severely limited».
This image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service Weather Prediction Centre shows an early computer model forecasting the chances of a windy, strong sleet-snow storm hitting the East Coast this weekend. Meteorologists say tens of millions of Americans from Washington to Boston and the Ohio Valley could be walloped by an end-of-the-week snowstorm Photo: AP
The storm is also likely to affect domestic and transatlantic flights for British holidaymakers, with airlines announcing cancellations, but offering the opportunity to reschedule free of charge.
British Airways has said there will be no flights to or from Washington, Philadelphia or Baltimore on Saturday.
Snow storms on the USA East Coast will affect some flights on the 22/23 Jan. Check your flight status here https://t.co/l7zGmYu3vP [21Jan]
— British Airways (@British_Airways)
January 21, 2016
«We are currently reviewing to and from Newark and JFK which were due to operate on Saturday, but we expect there will be significant disruption to our schedules,» the airline said.
It said to check the status of your flight before travelling, but is offering a change of booking free of charge. As is Virgin Atlantic, which has also warned of severe disruption to flights.
Check with your airline whether flights are affected and how to arrange for a refund or alternative flight.
Am I entitled to a refund if my airline cancels my flight?
Yes. EU regulations – which apply to anyone flying to or from an EU, Swiss, Norwegian or Icelandic airport, and with an EU, Swiss, Norwegian or Icelandic airline — require airlines to offer you either a full refund of the unused parts of your tickets, or to re-route you to your destination, as soon as possible. If your flight is cancelled outright you are entitled to a full refund. Some airlines may also allow you to rebook your flights for a later date at no extra cost.
• What to do when travel goes wrong: your rights
If you are travelling with a non-EU airline, between two non-EU airports, then you are bound by the terms of your contract. The CAA says: “Most airlines base their terms and conditions on those recommended by the International Air Transport Association. This means that when delays happen, most airlines have a contractual obligation to offer passengers a choice between a later flight, mutually agreed alternative transportation or a refund.”
Will I get compensation for any delay?
No. EU regulations mean passengers are entitled to cash compensation when their flight is delayed for three hours or more, unless the delay is beyond their control. A snowstorm fits this description.
Snow has already begun to fall in the US Photo: Getty
What should I do if I’m stranded abroad?
EU regulations make it clear that, when a flight with an EU airline or from an EU airport is cancelled, an airline is liable to pay for the cost of a hotel and subsistence for all those stranded as a result, until a replacement flight is provided. Should your airline advise you to buy your own food and accommodation, keep all receipts, and keep such costs to a reasonable minimum, before making a claim when you get back to Britain.
For non-EU airlines, the CAA says: “Some may provide refreshments and accommodation for passengers while they wait for their delayed flight. Some airlines will not. If they do not, you can try to claim for reimbursement of your expenses due to the delay. You have the right to claim for this under the Montreal Convention. Be aware that you may struggle to be reimbursed for anything other than meals or overnight hotel accommodation, so spend wisely. Keep receipts.”
What about package holidays?
Those passengers on package holidays who are stranded in a destination should be looked after by their tour operator, and the operator is legally obliged to get them home. Customers will usually be allowed to stay in their original hotel, or will be moved to one of a similar standard on a half-board or all-inclusive basis. The exact situation will depend on the operator’s booking terms and conditions.
Those due to travel will be entitled to a full refund if their holiday is cancelled.
Can I cancel my accommodation?
If you have booked a hotel or other accommodation independently of your travel arrangements (ie not as part of a package holiday) your contract is directly with the owner or operator and you are responsible for any cancellation. If you can’t get there, you will have to do your best to persuade them to give you a refund or rebook for a later date – but they are not obliged to do this and you may lose money.
Winter Storm Ultima hits New York in 2015 Photo: Rex Features
What about other arrangements I have paid for?
If you have booked a hire car, a hotel or other accommodation independently of your flight, and you are delayed or unable to travel, the airline is not liable for any losses you may incur. You are still responsible for paying the bill.
Am I covered by my travel insurance?
Your policy may pay out a small amount for very long delays (usually over 12 hours), but not usually enough to pay for more than a meal or two. A few policies have cover for a “consequential loss”, such as a hotel booking made independently. You will need to check the terms and conditions which apply to your policy directly with your insurer.
Civil Aviation Authority (for passenger rights)
BAA (Heathrow, Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Southampton)